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50. The women provided for the men

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Sven speaks: In the old Papuan society, the woman was basically the one who provided for the man by gardening crops. Taking care of pigs and chickens was also one of her tasks. To the extent that she was able to sell the produce from the garden, she gave the man money. She was, of course, also the cook.


This fact, that woman were an important source for the household income, was the reason for the women being seen as economic assets and therefore commanded a bride price (see Chapter 51). It was not just for the individual man she was seen as an asset, but also for the whole tribe. Later, as some women got educated, they were regarded as even more valuable because they were expected to be able to contribute with more money to the needs of the village.


The man's job was to build houses or huts, but this was nothing that occurred on a daily basis. He was also to bring home the fire wood. Another task was to build fences to keep the pigs from gardens, this was not a daily task either. The slaughter of pigs was also a man's job, but people did not have pigs mainly to eat the flesh, but as an economic asset to be used for paying the bride prices or for paying compensation in Peace settlements, or simply to show off that he was a rich man, says Sven.

"Yes, but what about hunting? Wasn’t this one of the men’s tasks?" I ask.

"Well, it was," Sven replies, "but hunting was not as common as we Westerners might imagine. For us the archetype of a child of nature is a hunter with bow and arrow, but to hunt was not something that was done on a daily basis in the Papuan community. There were no hunting grounds close to the villages. If they were going hunting it would be for possums or paradise birds high in the mountains, where no people lived. However, the men were the ones who took part in the frequent tribal wars, but this hardly contributed to the household income whatsoever."

Sven continues: If the man did not fulfill his duties, the woman could beat him, and he was not allowed to fight back since the punishment was given because of his own shortcomings. Ultimately, it was still the man who decided what the woman could and could not do.


A funny detail in the Papuan household economy was that the woman was allowed to have her own little stash of money, which was money that the man had no right to use. If, for example, a woman was given the judgment of flirting with a man other than her own husband through a trial, the village judge could tell her to compensate and pay money to her husband. The man could also be sentenced to pay his wife if he, for example, had beaten her without any justification. These examples show that they had separate economies within a marriage. This differs quite a lot to our standards in the Western society, where normally you would have to divorce your spouse before one party has to pay money to the other party in a marriage.

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